Beautiful Sunset Followed by Snow

A strong storm system approached the southwest yesterday and moved through the state overnight. Ahead of the storm, clouds began to increase just before sunset and I found myself at the Mormon Lake overlook. The cumulus clouds were fairly shallow so that the sunlight hitting the tops of the clouds was scattered downward and provided some diffuse lighting and color to the cloud bases.

The setting sun faintly illuminates the meadows of Mormon Lake and provides some color to the field of cumulus clouds.
The setting sun faintly illuminates the meadows of Mormon Lake and provides some color to the field of cumulus clouds.
A few minutes later and the sun is now illuminating the bases of the clouds.
A few minutes later and the sun is now illuminating the bases of the clouds.

There was also a thin gap between the clouds and the ground allowing for just a few minutes of direct sunlight.

Here are a few photographs of the sunset and clouds along with some sunlight spilling across the currently dry lakebed of Mormon Lake.

Band of showers and thunderstorms associated with the advancing cold front.
Band of showers and thunderstorms associated with the advancing cold front.

As the storm and cold front approached showers and thunderstorms quickly developed with a line of strong thunderstorms developing about an hour after sunset. There was quite a bit of lightning as the line of storms moved across the area. The sound of rain faded as it was replaced by snow falling in the wake of the front.

New-fallen snow lies on this cinquefoil plant.
New-fallen snow lies on this cinquefoil plant.

In the morning there was snow covering the ground. Measurements were difficult as strong winds during the night had blown the snow such that some areas had a few inches and other areas were bare.

The snow juxtaposed with autumn colors was very pretty but my favorite photograph was the snow on this cinquefoil that still has some flowers.

Sunset Convection and Lightning

It was a pleasant evening in Sedona watching thunderstorms as the sun sank lower in the western sky. It was mostly clear in that direction allowing sunlight to illuminate storms in the east. This is one of my favorite setups: clear in the west and stormy in the east.

Early evening sunlight illuminates thunderstorms and Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
Early evening sunlight illuminates thunderstorms and Cathedral Rock in Sedona.
Early evening sunlight illuminates thunderstorms.
Early evening sunlight illuminates thunderstorms.
Lightning from a distant storm after sunset.
Lightning from a distant storm after sunset.
Lightning from a distant storm after sunset.
Lightning from a distant storm after sunset.

The setting sun produced wonderful pastel colors on the clouds and occasionally illuminated the rock spires and buttresses in the middle distance. And after sunset, distant storms showed large anvils along with occasional bolts of lightning.

Using Satellite Data to Anticipate a Great Sunset

This sunset from a few weeks ago was pretty spectacular. Drivers were pulling off the highway into the overlook area to get photographs. I overheard one person claiming this was a one-in-a-million sunset. That was probably an overstatement of several magnitudes. More likely, this was a one-in-a-hundred event, meaning you could see a sunset this great a few times a year.

Sunset viewed from Mormon Lake.
Sunset viewed from Mormon Lake.
Sunset details.
Sunset details.

I had been looking at satellite data that afternoon and saw a nice streak of high cirrus clouds moving across northern Arizona. The orientation of the clouds suggested that the sun might briefly appear below the clouds and illuminate the bottoms around and shortly after sunset.

Satellite image showing streak of cirrus clouds moving across northern Arizona.
Satellite image showing streak of cirrus clouds moving across northern Arizona.

So I headed out to Mormon Lake Overlook where there is a good view of the western sky and waited.

It worked out pretty well.

The 2020 nonsoon-Monsoon

A thin band of clouds partially blocks the sun and creates an array of crepuscular rays of light.

This is the second year in a row in which the North American Monsoon has failed to deliver its normal weather to Arizona. The monsoon had a late start in July with only a few isolated rain events early in the month and the main event starting around the third week of July. But even that faltered after a week and the final week of July was dry.

August was even worse with no measurable precipitation until after mid-month and even then the amounts were light. The National Weather Service in Flagstaff has posted some climate data for the area for August. It was the hottest August and the 2nd driest on record in Flagstaff and most of the west experienced similar conditions (Figure 1; Figure 2; Figure 3).

Photographing summer monsoon storms has been a challenge this year because there were so many dry periods. Even so, there are always interesting weather events and clouds that make it worthwhile. So here is a collection of the most interesting weather photographs from this summer.

Convection

Early stages of convection over the San Francisco Peaks as viewed from Marshall Lake.
Early stages of convection over the San Francisco Peaks as viewed from Marshall Lake.

A time-lapse movie shows that the ducks are more interesting than the convection.

Developing Cb's over the San Francisco Peaks.
Developing Cb’s over the San Francisco Peaks.
Small cumulus clouds over the Painted Desert.
Small cumulus clouds over the Painted Desert.
A weak thunderstorm near Two Guns, Arizona.
A weak thunderstorm near Two Guns, Arizona.
A well-developed thunderstorm over the Mogollon Rim viewed from Sedona.
A well-developed thunderstorm over the Mogollon Rim viewed from Sedona.

Rainbows

Full rainbows eluded me this year butI did manage to photograph a rainbow segment.

Rainbow segment over the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Rainbow segment over the North Rim of Grand Canyon.

Lightning

As with rainbows, lightning was elusive this year. It was typically a case of being in the wrong place on the wrong day and at the wrong time. But I did get lucky with the following image.

Lightning illuminates the interior of Grand Canyon.
Lightning illuminates the interior of Grand Canyon.
In-cloud lightning illuminates a small Cb near the Grand Canyon. I was trying to photograph the comet so I got lucky with this storm.
In-cloud lightning illuminates a small Cb near the Grand Canyon. I was trying to photograph the comet so I got lucky with this storm.
Lightning at sunset over the Mogollon Rim viewed from Sedona.
Lightning at sunset over the Mogollon Rim viewed from Sedona.
Weak storms over the San Francisco Peaks produced these two bolts of lightning.
Weak storms over the San Francisco Peaks produced these two bolts of lightning.
In-cloud lightning partially illuminates Grand Canyon while the nearly-full Moon provides additional illumination.
In-cloud lightning partially illuminates Grand Canyon while the nearly-full Moon provides additional illumination.

Sunsets

And when there is no lightning and no rainbow, one can be content with the sunset.

A small rain shaft is illuminated by the setting sun.
A small rain shaft is illuminated by the setting sun.
Distant rain catches the last light of the sun and provides backlighting for the Cockscomb.
Distant rain catches the last light of the sun and provides backlighting for the Cockscomb.
A thin band of clouds partially blocks the sun and creates an array of crepuscular rays of light.
A thin band of clouds partially blocks the sun and creates an array of crepuscular rays of light.
The sun sets over ruins in Wupatki National Monument.
The sun sets over ruins in Wupatki National Monument.
The setting sun illuminates both Cathedral Rock and the clouds above.
The setting sun illuminates both Cathedral Rock and the clouds above.

Miscellaneous

Crepuscalar Rays—Wupatki National Monument.
Crepuscalar Rays—Wupatki National Monument.
Crepuscalar Rays—San Francisco Peaks.
Crepuscalar Rays—San Francisco Peaks.
Even thought it is supposed to be the wet and rainy season, we still managed to get cap clouds on the high peaks with stars above.
Even thought it is supposed to be the wet and rainy season, we still managed to get cap clouds on the high peaks with stars above.

Perhaps 2021 will be a normal monsoon year.

Lightning at Sunset

It’s been a challenging season for storm photography. First was a late start to the North American Monsoon. And, then, just as it was finally ramping up it shut down quickly. Current model forecasts suggest at least another week until it ramps up again.

This storm eventually produced lightning after sunset.
This storm eventually produced lightning after sunset.
Sunset and lightning north of Sedona.
Sunset and lightning north of Sedona.
Evening twilight colors and lightning.
Evening twilight colors and lightning.

A bit of moisture managed to produce some thunderstorms right around sunset. And there was enough lightning to make it worthwhile to be there and get some photographs.